James “Jimmie” Nicol was born in London, England, on August 3, 1939. In 1957, Nicol got his first break at London’s 2i’s Coffee Bar. Larry Parnes discovered him while performing at one of his gigs. Nicol was a member of various bands in the early days of British skiffle music. Nicol toured with Colin Hicks & The Cabin Boys throughout the mid to late sixties alongside film projects like Europa Di Notte, an Italian documentary. In the early 60s, he played for many artists, including Vince Edgar, Oscar Rabin, and Cyril Shepard. Merseybeats bassist Bob Garner co-founded The Shubdubs with Nicol in 1964. The same year he received a phone call that changed his life. George Martin was familiar with Nicol because he was part of a recording session with Tommy Quickly. Additionally, he played drums on a b-label record label that did cover versions of The Beatles songs. Even though he was not credited for the project, it was the experience that led to his brief ascent and descent into fame with one of the most iconic groups in rock and roll history.
Fifteen minutes of fame
According to Seattle Pi, In 1964, The Beatles were on their European and Australasian tour when Ringo Starr got tonsilitis. Brian Epstein wasn’t interested in canceling the tour. Instead, he went against popular opinion and brought in another drummer. The Beatles producer, George Martin, suggested Jimmy Nicol. According to the vintage news, George Harrison was against the idea because he felt the group should stand together and not bring in a replacement, even for a short time. Eventually, George Martin helped him understand that they would let their fans down if they didn’t bring someone in. Jimmie Nicol was chosen because Martin was impressed by his studio work. Additionally, he had done several Beatles covers on independent labels. He auditioned at the famed Abbey Road Studios, and after playing six songs, was offered the temporary gig. In 24 hours, he was given a Beatles haircut and pushed into the spotlight with one of the most iconic rock bands. Nicol never thought he would experience this level of fame. His first major gig was in front of 4500 Beatles fans playing ten of the group’s songs. He did eight additional concerts and a TV show while Ringo Starr was still in the hospital.
After The Beatles
Sadly, In under two weeks, he went from unknown to massively successful and back to obscurity. Even while with The Beatles, he noticed that he was able to do things they couldn’t. While in Hong Kong, he went out alone unrecognized. Thirteen days later, Ringo Starr flew to Melbourne, Australia, and Nicols’s time was over. He did a final interview with The Fab Four before flying back into obscurity. Before his flight took off, Epstein gave him a watch with the inscription “From The Beatles and Brian Epstein to Jimmie-with appreciation and gratitude.” According to Today, I found out that he was driven to the airport and waited for his flight alone. This short time of celebrity hurt him for the rest of his life. In an interview with Mojo in 2002, he remarked, “After the headlines died, I began dying too.” He was paid twenty thousand pounds for his time with the group. However, most of the money he earned was invested in getting his group, Jimmie Nicol & The Shubdubs, back together. He even thought adding his name would help the success of the group because of his brief fame. However, after two singles with little commercial success, the band ended. The money he earned was gone in under a year. British newspapers cruelly ran articles about him declaring bankruptcy. Additionally, his wife left, taking his son Howard. Nicols had nowhere to go, so he slept in his mother’s basement.
Although he had some success with a few groups, he had addiction issues that made it impossible for him to work in the industry. In 1975 he gave up on his musical aspirations and began to work as a housing contractor. Much like Pete Best, he stopped speaking to the press after his time with The Beatles. In 1987, he explained the reason for not speaking to the press “After the money ran low, I thought of cashing-in in some way or other. But the timing wasn’t right. And I didn’t want to step on The Beatles’ toes. They had been damn good for me and to me.” Following the statement, he retreated from the limelight again. In 1988, there were rumors he died. His son Howard became an award-winning sound engineer who reportedly didn’t know if his father was alive in 2015. However, other sources said that he was somewhere in London, but no one could find him. Even though he faded into obscurity after his brief fame, one song is attributed to him. On Sgnt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, there is a song called Getting Better. When Nicols toured with The Beatles, Paul continually asked how he was doing. Each time, Nicols said the same thing “it’s getting better.” Years later, Paul was reminded of this reference and turned it into a song. Unfortunately, things never got better for Nichols after his brief time with The Beatles. Some of the group’s fans don’t remember his short time with the group.
Because The Beatles were one of the twentieth century’s most influential rock bands, numerous stories, myths, and key players have been featured in endless biographies. The evolution of drummers and the group’s name changes throughout their early history add details that some may have forgotten. Drummers like Pete Best are well-known. However, some neglected names, such as Jimmie Nicol, gained brief fame and a lifetime of recovery after filling in for one of the most influential drummers for thirteen days.